Cries of the Poor

January 28, 2015

Comedian Steven Colbert made this statements:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Now I am not one who believes that the United States was ever a “Christian Nation” in any true sense.  While it is evident that through our history our forefathers were guided by Judeo-Christian morays, and that the vast majority of citizens have traditonally recognized some expression of Christianity as the prevailing or most permeating faith in the land, the nation itself has held a different set of standards from than the gospel of Christ…

As to what solutions Colbert has to offer, I do not know.  But I know he has a valid point.

In a paper titled, Gospel-driven Principles, Dick Kaufmann, of Harbor Church in San Diego, makes these suggestions about our engagement with the poor:

1. KNOW THE POOR

The poor are mentioned over 200 times in the Old Testament. But who are the poor?

  • The Poor Are Needy. They have little or nothing of what the world values and as a result the world discards them. Now the Bible does say that some people squander the world’s goods and end up poor as a result of irresponsibility. But what is striking is this—80 to 90% of the passages on the poor do not say they had wealth but were irresponsible. On the contrary, there is reference to the fact that irresponsibility is a result of poverty not the cause of poverty. For example, Proverbs 10:15: “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor.” Frequently crime, addictions, irresponsibility, and unrest are a response to poverty. The Bible says by and large the vast majority of people who are in misery are born and come up having nothing of value so they are thrown away.

What is to be our response to the poor who are needy? Mercy. Overwhelmingly, the passages on the poor are not a rebuke to the poor but a call to God’s people to show them mercy. “Do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother…Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

  • The Poor Are Powerless. As a result they are oppressed. They have little that the world values but the little they have the world takes away. “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away” (Proverbs 13:23). “A poor man is shunned by all his relatives—how much more do his friends avoid him! Though he pursues them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found” (Proverbs 19:7). You see it is not just a matter of irresponsibility. Things are broken. The poor are powerless; as a result, the little that they have is taken away from them.

What is to be our response to the poor who are oppressed? Justice. God calls us to defend the cause of the oppressed (Psalm 82). “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). But the problem goes much deeper than any social program can deal with. And so the Bible not only exhorts us to do justice but also to look to the day when God will come and make all things right. “The needy will not always be forgotten (Psalm 9:18)…’Because of the oppression of the weak and groaning of the needy, I will arise,’ says the Lord” (Psalm 12:5). And so Jesus begins his ministry reading from Isaiah 61 – “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Central to what it means to be a follower of Jesus is to bring relief to the poor through mercy and justice. The Gospel helps us to know the poor and the Gospel helps us to…

2. BECOME THE POOR

In Matthew, Jesus does say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). The Gospel comes to you only if you get rid of your middle-class spirit and get the spirit of the poor. That means three things:

  1. Acknowledge That You Are Needy. The middle-class spirit says: “If I live a good life then I will have something of value to present to God. If I give to the poor, show mercy and do justice I can present something to God that he will value. I can do it.” But the Gospel says: “No one is good, no not one.” Even our good deeds are filthy rags. They stink of self-righteousness. Because they have been done to feel superior to others and to get leverage with God so that He owes us a good life. They have absolutely no value to God.
  1. Acknowledge That You Are Powerless. The middle class spirit says: “Okay, if I have failed I will just pick myself up and try harder. I will turn over a new leaf. I may be down but I am not out. I’ll double my effort. Never say never, think positive, visualize success—I can do it. I will do it!” But the Gospel says: “Not only are you spiritually bankrupt with nothing of value to present to God but you are totally incapable of reversing the situation.” It is like a drowning man trying to pull himself out by his own hair. No, it is worse. It is like a dead man trying to dig himself out of the grave. The Bible says: You are spiritually dead and totally powerless to do anything that would merit God’s approval.
  1. Acknowledge That Your Only Hope Is A Poor Man. Trust in the King who became a poor man. He was born in a feed bin, in a cattle shed. At his dedication, his parents gave the smallest offering possible. He was raised in a poor family, in a poor community. All his life he was poor. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, had his last meal in a borrowed room, and was buried in a borrowed grave. He died naked. He had little the world valued and the little he had was taken away. He was discarded, thrown away. And only because of Him do you we have any hope. Your only hope is a crucified poor man. If this offends you, you are middle class in spirit and you cannot be saved. You must become the poor. And finally, the Gospel calls us and enables us to…

3. LOVE THE POOR

To the extent that the Gospel works in your heart you will love the poor in three ways:

  1. You Will Identify With The Poor. You will see that they are just like you. You will see their dirty, tattered clothes and think: “All my righteousness is a filthy rag, but in Christ we both are clothed in his white robes of righteousness.” You don’t pity them. You have empathy for them, but you don’t look down on them. You respect them. Instead of serving them in a paternalistic way you see them as partners in ministry—people from whom you have much to learn.
  1. You Will Be Generous To The Poor. Does the Bible call us to give everything away? No. Does it call us to stay rich? No. The Bible calls us to become incredibly contented and daringly generous with what we have because our riches are in heaven.
  1. You Will Stand With And For The Poor. That’s what it means to do justice for the oppressed. The Gospel frees us from our obsession with our reputation and our comfort and enables us to so identify with the poor that we are willing to stand with and for them against injustice and oppression.

The Gospel of Jesus is for the poor and only the poor—the spiritually poor and especially the materially poor. For the Gospel to come to you, you must become poor. When that happens the Gospel enables you to know and love the poor.

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